Oct 17, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

'The Odd Couple' at CWC is about more than simply its ample laugh count

There's more to "The Odd Couple" than meets the funnybone.

This reference is not about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney but, rather, to the title characters of the play opening Wednesday at the Robert A. Peck Arts Center in Riverton.

Many Americans of a certain age, say, 45 and older, have a sense of "The Odd Couple" thanks to the old ABC television sitcom starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as a mismatched pair of adult male roommates --one a neat freak, the other a slob --but far fewer know the source material.

"The Odd Couple" is a play written by the hugely successful American playwright Neil Simon, who had one of the great winning streaks in stage history from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s. Among his many other hits are "Barefoot in the Park," "The Sunshine Boys," "The Goodbye Girl," "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues."

There is no question that "The Odd Couple," which made its Broadway debut in 1965, is a comedy. It is full of laughs and funny characters, and as such is a very accessible and entertaining play. It's a good college and community theater choice for that reason.

But this isn't the Marx Brothers. "The Odd Couple" has a serious and poignant subtext just under the surface of the laughter.

When we first see Felix Ungar, he apparently has just tried to commit suicide. He has been kicked out by his wife, and he is despondent. Worst of all, he is a next-to-impossible person to live with --and he knows it.

There is humor in the situation, but it is not a funny situation --two very different things. Oscar is downright mean to Felix much of the time, and the reason is obvious: Oscar basically is as miserable as Felix, only he's been at it longer and has learned to bury it under layers of beer, poker playing, potato chips and male bravado.

The skilled comedy dramatist tends to be overlooked to a point, dismissed as a man who "only" writes comedy. But Simon is far more than a writer of vaudeville farce or slapstick gags (although there are elements of both in "The Odd Couple"). The play probes authentic issues of marriage, loneliness, depression, neuroses, friendship, obligation, and the life roles men often are forced into without knowing why, or how to get out of them if they don't fit.

This would be some heavy subject matter in the hands of many a playwright. That Neil Simon can do it while making us laugh means he also is doing it while riveting our attention. That's a gift, and it is going to be unwrapped on stage at Central Wyoming College for the next five days.

You'll buy your ticket for the comedy, but later you may well realize that you've seen something of greater depth and intelligence than you were aware of amid the chuckles.

-- Steven R. Peck

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